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Laramie Movie Scope: Concussion

The most important film of the year

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 27, 2015 -- It isn't the best film of the year, but it is the most important. If you are a sports fan, or even if you are not, you've probably heard about “deflategate,” the story about under-inflated footballs used in a 2014 New England Patriots playoff game. If you haven't heard, never mind. It is just junk news anyway. The real news is about CTE, which is what this movie is about.

If you haven't heard of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, that's because the NFL, the NCAA and other football powers don't want you to know about it. CTE is real news, important news. It is important to anyone who plays football, or anyone who has a family member who plays football, at any level of football. CTE means any football player, at any age, is at risk for permanent, irreversible brain damage, even if the player has never been diagnosed with a concussion.

The movie “Concussion” is about Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith of the “Men in Black” movies) a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh, who discovered CTE after examining the body of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Mike Webster (David Morse of “Drive Angry”). Omalu, co-authored the original scientific paper on CTE, and named the disease, after examining several former NFL players. CTE causes dementia-like symptoms as well as other behavioral problems, loss of temper, suicide, abusive behavior, confusion, or various other mental and physical problems.

The film follows Omalu's courtship with the woman who would become his wife, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw of “Jupiter Ascending”) and his ongoing battle with the National Football League who sought to discredit him and his research. With his wife's backing, Omalu stands up to the NFL, aided by a former NFL doctor, Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin of “Blue Jasmine”). Bailes has seen too many of his former patients die, including Webster.

Will Smith gives a great performance in this film, particularly with his voice. He adopts a Nigerian accent and voice mannerisms of Omalu so well, he disappears into the role. I had a hard time recognizing Smith in this role, just because Smith's usual voice, his well-known manner of speaking and inflections are absent in this film, and that is such a big part of his personae.

As good as Smith is in this film, he is almost upstaged by Albert Brooks (“Drive”) who plays Omalu's boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht. While Smith is unrecognizable, this is a classic Brooks performance, with his delicious dry humor and deadpan delivery, he is just a delight to watch. It looks like this part was written for Brooks, as he flawlessly delivers some classic zingers.

This is a very well acted movie, with good performances by Smith, Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Morse and others. It is a good man-against-the-system movie. Omalu went toe to toe with the NFL, took their best shot, and is still standing. He thinks he had God on his side, and the movie makes it look like he is right about that.

Here are some facts you won't hear during any NFL game. Of 91 former NFL players tested for CTE so far (the test can only be performed after death) 96 percent tested positive. Of all football players tested for CTE, 79 percent were positive. CTE was found during an autopsy of a 21-year-old football player who committed suicide. Concussions also occur among young athletes in other sports, such as soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse.

Accelerometer tests on football helmets worn by children as young as six years old in practice and games showed they sometimes suffer blows to their heads from collisions with other players that are at the same levels of intensity that college players experience. Children, especially, are more susceptible to brain damage because their necks are not as strong and their brains are lighter.

This is a movie that everyone needs to see. It is important. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)